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Katie Gabriel, from auctioneer podium to MNCPA board chair

| April 2021 Footnote

Editor's note: Updated March 31, 2021

For anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting Katie Gabriel, CPA, her intentional, engaging communication style draws you in and her genuine smile warmingly reminds you of meeting up with an old friend. Her ascension to MNCPA board chair, a position she’ll hold for the next year, is a surprise to no one who knows her.

The senior business development director with Salo, LLC sat down with us to talk about her career, what drives her personally and where she sees the accounting profession heading in the future.

What is your background as a CPA?

I started my career as an auditor at Boulay. I enjoyed being at a regional firm where I could get experience with the entire audit process early on and interact directly with clients. When I found that I enjoyed the nonbillable work (recruiting, training, business development) more than the billable work that my role entailed, I decided to switch gears and move into the staffing world. I originally joined Salo’s direct hire practice, and I’ve now spent the past seven years on the consulting side of our business. I help my clients bring in the right fit for their interim accounting and finance needs.

With your professional transition, why has it been important for you to maintain your CPA?

I didn’t want to let it go inactive because I had worked so hard to pass the exam and I was proud to have earned it. As I built my career in a role that doesn’t require an active license, I saw keeping my license active was a way to differentiate myself. I am a lifelong learner and I enjoy staying on top of the changes in my profession. It’s helpful for me to understand accounting policy changes so I can best help my clients and better assess the skillsets of our consultants. Employers see someone with an active CPA and appreciate the effort and dedication to keep it active. In my opinion, it’s also a lot easier to keep it active than to go inactive and later reactivate it.

What led you to becoming the MNCPA board chair?

Initially, I was involved with the MNCPA Young Professionals Group (YPG) shortly after starting my career in public accounting and quickly latched onto the society. I became a YPG captain, joined the YPG Leadership Committee and later got involved in the Management and Business Advisers Conference (MBAC) Task Force. I also joined B&I groups and attended CPA Day at the Capitol. I enjoyed being involved with the MNCPA and welcomed the opportunity to join the board of directors. I was nominated to step in as chair after serving on the executive committee for a few years.

What excites you most about the role of the MNCPA board chair?

I hold the MNCPA with such high regard. I want to use my voice to help recruit and engage members. This is such a dynamic time and I want to make sure that the MNCPA maximizes the opportunities ahead so we end up an even stronger organization on the other side of the pandemic.

What do you see are the biggest challenges facing the accounting profession today?

We have a lack of diversity in our profession — especially at senior levels in both public accounting and industry. Progress has been made but not fast enough. Our profession is suffering by not having more diversity.

We are also experiencing a pace of change at a higher rate than ever before. We need to stay curious and nimble with a growth mindset so we can continue to stay relevant.

Where do you see the profession in five years?

Increased automation is taking away the transactional work and is creating more room for analytics. I expect the demand for data analytics to continue to rise. More and more companies are using tools like PowerBI, Tableau and Alteryx.

I expect there will be a continued shift from compliance work to advisory work. The CPA skillset will be more robust to include a deeper understanding of technology so CPAs can communicate effectively with technologists. CPAs who have strong communication skills and high emotional intelligence will continue to rise to the top. I also expect the accounting profession will find more ways to leverage blockchain as well.

The pandemic really sped up what I think was an eventual shift to a remote and hybrid work style, and accountants will have more control over how and where they work. I expect there will be a shift to more people wanting flexibility to work when, where and how they want. Employers will have to be creative and nimble to attract the best talent.

What do you like to do outside of work and why?

I’m also a benefit auctioneer; in non-pandemic times, you could find me on a Friday or Saturday night on stage in front of hundreds of people raising significant funds for deserving nonprofits. The pandemic has moved those events to a virtual basis for now.

Beyond that, I love to travel and experience new things. I caught my travel bug when I studied abroad in Scotland. I’ve been able to pair my love for travel with volunteering, and I’ve been on several volunteer trips to India, Guatemala and Haiti. I loved visiting Peru, the Galapagos Islands, Indonesia and Portugal. My husband is from Montana, so I enjoy spending time there and exploring national parks.

Tell us your favorite story from one of your volunteer trips.

On my first volunteer trip to India, I was asked to be the godmother of Jasmine, the youngest child at the children’s home, who had just turned 3. We had a full baptism and, in following in Indian naming conventions, she took my name as her second name, so she’s now Jasmine Katie.

At the end of the trip on the way to the airport, the program director received a call that was for me. It was Jasmine on the line saying, “I love you, mummy.” Needless to say, she melted my heart and is one of the main reasons why I’ve returned so many times. My husband and I even volunteered in India as part of our honeymoon, and they threw us an entire wedding celebration at the children’s home (see image above). It was awesome to have Jasmine and the other kids there to celebrate our wedding.

What brings you the most joy in life?

Spending time with my 1-year-old son, Eli. Children are such a blessing. We had twin boys who were born pre-term three years ago and only lived a short while. Our twins taught us how to love more deeply and appreciate the time we have together.

What else, besides accounting practices and the industry, do you enjoy learning about and why?

I have a wide variety of interests. Right now, I’m on a kick to declutter and simplify and I’m taking in content related to that. I’ve been trying to learn Spanish and I’m on a 260-plus day streak of doing at least one lesson a day on Duolingo. I’m also interested in organizational psychology and I’m curious about donor development.

What do you read, watch or listen to every day?

I love podcasts and I listen to them at 1.7x speed so that I can quickly take content in. I listen to the news while I’m getting ready in the morning and I sprinkle in many others with some favorites being HBR Women at Work, Unlocking Us, The Happiness Lab, The Pitch, By All Means, and Terrible, Thanks for Asking. I enjoy rotating between reading business- and development-focused books with novels. I’ve recently joined a racial equity book club and I’m making that a priority.

Let’s say you have a free afternoon on a Sunday. What are you doing?

These days, Sunday afternoons are my time to recharge; I like to try to get in a nap or some reading time while my son is napping.